School System Encouraging Public To Remain Calm
Darren Doyle, story and photo:
With the nation reeling from all the negative effects of COVID-19, or coronavirus, it's easy to get wrapped up in the mess of it all. Since yesterday, the NBA announced it was suspending its season indefinitely, the NCAA has made drastic changes in their upcoming basketball tournaments, and large events across the nation are being both cancelled and suspended.
Multiple universities (including WKU) in the state have extended their spring breaks another week and are ordering online classes-only for a period, and yesterday, Governor Andy Beshear even recommended reduced gatherings and for church services be cancelled until the "pandemic," as described by the World Health Organization, is under control.
Edmonson County Superintendent of Schools Patrick Waddell sat down with us this morning before attending a meeting with other county and city school officials in the area to discuss Edmonson County's measures on both preventing and mitigating the coronavirus. It's also important to note: currently there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in not only Edmonson County, but also in the 10-county area. There have only been eight confirmed cases of the virus in Kentucky, and in three counties: Jefferson, Fayette, and Harrison.
"We had a conference call with Governor Andy Beshear and the Commissioner of Education Kevin Brown yesterday regarding measures for the coronavirus and the main thing we discussed is for people not to panic," Waddell said.
He said that state officials are stressing social distancing, which is any sort of reduced gathering where attendance will be high; however, he also discussed local measures being taken now by Edmonson County Schools.
"We are emphasizing proper hygiene and thorough hand-washing, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, multiple times a day" he said. "Right now, we're preparing in the event the state would instruct us to close schools, which would be on a 72-hour notice. We haven't heard anything like that at this point, but we have to prepare for that."
Waddell stressed that the virus hasn't hit home yet or this region; however, the schools are preparing additional NTI school work in the event of an extended closing.
"Closing school is a hardship on many different people," he said. "Everyone has to have a plan in place when school closes, whether childcare, pickups and drop offs, all the things that change when school is cancelled, so we're asking all of you to prepare as well. In addition to NTI work, we're also working on continuing a plan to feed our students breakfast and lunch to those that will still need it, even if school is not in session. We're making plans where food can be picked up at our schools, as well as plans for drop off points where it can be picked up. We'll arrange it where food can be pre-ordered for students if this happens."
Waddell said schools will keep the public informed through one-calls, school social media, school websites, and The Edmonson Voice.
The school system is allowed up to 10 NTI days per year without a declaration of emergency. Currently, EC schools have used 6 days so far. Waddell said that Representative Michael Lee Meredith and Senator Steve Meredith are working towards state legislation that would allow an additional 10 NTI days if necessary.
"We are also discouraging out-of-state school-related trips at this time, as well as all non-essential travel," he said. "We will discuss those on a case-by-case basis."
"Locally, we've also added extra custodial staff, we have extra hand sanitizer coming, and we're educating our students on proper hand-washing. We're going to allow extra bathroom time for students. We're increasing our cleaning efforts at all schools," he said. "We're simply trying to be as prepared as possible if we have to close. This is a virus we've never seen. Our bodies haven't reacted to this so we really don't know what could happen. With that being said, we all need to take precautions, but no one needs to panic."
Waddell said schools are also stressing the "3 Cs," Calm, Clean, Cooperative.
"Lots of this is common sense," he said.
He also encouraged people to verify information they see on social media due to the huge amounts of misinformation that is being spread.
"If you hear or see anything about something going on at our schools, check our school sources. There have been all sorts of things said that aren't true. If we're instructed by the state to make any sort of decision, or if we have to make a local decision that impacts our district, we'll inform the public within an hour. This isn't the same as weather-related closings where we're all scrambling last minute. We'll have more time to prepare for a closing like this--if it even comes to that."
Waddell said the main concern of the school at this time is still the regular strands of the flu that have continually hurt attendance here at home for several weeks. Local schools have closed an unprecedented three different times this year due to the flu.
"School attendance this week has been up and it's getting better," he said. "Earlier in the year we saw attendance as low as 89%. This week it's back up to 93% and we expect that to continue to improve. Let's all use common sense and take care of ourselves and each other the best we can."
Currently, just over 1300 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the U.S., which is only 3 out of every one million people. There have also been 38 confirmed deaths as a result of the virus in the U.S. According to the CDC, nearly 5 times that amount die each day from the standard flu or pneumonia in the U.S.